Global Maritime History are pleased to announce the provisional conference programme for the Maritime Toxic Masculinity Digital Conference, which will go live on our website on Friday, April 26. We are excited by the extensive range of topics that our presenters will be discussing. The digital conference format provides us with the flexibility to hear from a diverse group of speakers and to accommodate creative projects. We hope that those who are interested will follow the conference proceedings through the website and through the conference hashtag, #maritimetoxicmasc, on Twitter, where we’ll be hosting a lively digital discussion.
Anyone wishing to be included in any of the panels, has time until March 22 to submit their abstract to firstname.lastname@example.org. We welcome traditional academic papers as well as presentations in other formats. Thanks for your participation and enthusiasm.
Panel 1: Hostility: Masculine Violence and Xenophobia
Ankita Das: “War, Travel, and the Turmoiled Self: Narrative of an Odia Soldier”
Abstract: Travel is a highly multi-layered process that is determined by the traveller’s social class/ status and his purpose of travelling. While research has been carried out on Western travel writing, not much is known about travel within Asia. There exist accounts and narratives, though few in number about travel within Asia that involves a dialogical consciousness of the traveller’s gaze in the appropriations of imperialism. Two and a half billion soldiers from undivided India served the British colonisers during the 2nd World War. Their experiences, have remained unremembered for various reasons, neither in the U.K, where a Eurocentric memory of the war dominates, nor in South Asia, where nationalist histories of Independence from the British Empire still prevail. In the colonial era, many from India, especially from the coastal region of Odisha, migrated to Burma (Present day Myanmar) through maritime routes in search of better jobs, but among them a few were taken as part of the British army. Many travel accounts were written in various Indian languages- Hindi, Odia, Bengali, Urdu and Tamil and have been lost in time, all that remains are evocative textual remains- a portal into the soldiers’ world. This paper attempts to study the 2nd World War through the Asian lens- the Asian soldier’s dilemma of killing his own brothers, as part of the colonial enterprise. The study is based on Mayadhar Singh’s autobiography, Mu Military Re Thili (I was a Soldier), written in Odia. He very vividly remarks, “As I passed my days under the shadow of war that loomed large, another battle raged within me. I had not received a letter or any news from my home for a long time” (Mu Military Re Thili, Mayadhar Singh). The account, thus forges a material and emotional connection between the home front and warfront. It poignantly depicts the soldier’s assuaging loneliness, homesickness and a rather fascinating account of the colonial matrix, involving India, Burma and Japan. The image of the soldier penning down his thoughts remain a remarkable testament to the forgotten experiences of the Indian soldier and his experiences during the 2nd World War.
Bio: Ankita Das is a PhD Research Scholar at the Indian Institute of Information Technology, Guwahati, India. Her area of research and interest is British Colonial Travel Narratives in India. She is currently working on the journals of the Eden sisters and Maria Graham. Apart from this, she is also part of the Centre for Archiving and Translation, University of Delhi, India. Her interest in Travel Writing and literature grew after she enrolled for a 10 day course on Travel Writing: Texts, Theories and Framework, offered by Prof. Carl Thompson and Prof. Jatindra Nayak at IIT-Bhubaneswar in December 2016. Her other research interests include exploring travel narratives of lesser known Indian writers written in indigenous languages. She currently teaches Communicative English to students at the undergraduate level at IIIT Guwahati.
Dr. R. Benedito Ferrão: “Blood and Belonging: Nationalism, Racism, and the Murder of Gregory Fernandes”
Abstract: In their 23 October, 2007 online report on the incident, the BBC declares, “Sailor Attacked ‘Because of Race’.” The inverted commas notwithstanding, the white youth accused in the 2007 murder of Goan sailor Gregory Fernandes, who was set upon while returning to his ship in Southampton, were found guilty two years later. As the Crown heard, the white English lads were reported to have said, they wanted to “beat a Paki,” prior to the attack. My paper will centre on Fernandes’ murder in the port town, situating it as an act of masculinized violence and racist nationalism. Fernandes’ Goan origins tie in with a larger history of seafaring by that community, a subject my presentation will also consider as it thinks about labour issues and the contemporary moment of globalization and Brexit. Note that “Fernandes,” a very commonly found name in Goa, bespeaks that region’s Portuguese past. Yet, the 2007 Southampton murder occurred based on a racist assumption where Fernandes’ skin colour was equated with foreignness and, more specifically, non-Europeanness. As Rajni Bhatia points out in chronicling the more than 40-year-old history of the slur “Paki,” its genesis is British, indicating an identity crisis rooted in nationalism and labour relations (or the lack thereof). My paper will contend that Fernandes’ murder cannot be extricated from xenophobic attitudes that have arisen in Britain because of the influx of working class Goans in recent years. Though born Indian citizens, many of these Goans arrive in Britain by claiming their erstwhile Portuguese citizenship which, in turn, gives them entry to the European Union. In an era of globalization where capital is mobile, but labour is constrained by limitations that have colonial genesis, the category of the Goan continues to defy and query such stricture. While on the one hand the murder of Fernandes speaks to crises of class and gender, as well as nationalism and globalization, it also emblematizes the precarity of life of the migrant precisely due to these factors.
Bio: Dr. R. Benedito Ferrão has lived and worked in Kuwait, India, the United States, England, and Australia. A writer and academic, he is currently an Assistant Professor of English and Asian & Pacific Islander American Studies at The College of William and Mary. In 2017-18, he curated the art exhibition Goa/Portugal/Mozambique: The Many Lives of Vamona Navelcar (Fundação Oriente Gallery, Goa), and edited a book of the same title (Fundação Oriente 2017) to accompany this retrospective of Navelcar’s art. His scholarly writing appears in various international journals and edited books, including Research in African Literatures and Places of Nature in Ecologies of Urbanism (HKU Press 2017); his fiction and creative non-fiction can be read in Riksha, The Good Men Project, Mizna, The João Roque Literary Journal, and other publications. These works are accessible at thenightchild.blogspot.com and facebook.com/nightchildnexus.
Dr. Jonathan Thayer: “Andrew Furuseth, the International Seamen’s Union, and the Political Ideology of Maritime Masculinity”
Abstract: Andrew Furuseth is commonly celebrated as an emancipatory figure in U.S. maritime history. As leader of the International Seamen’s Union and principle advocate for passage of the 1915 Seamen’s Act (the “Magna Carta of seamen’s rights”), the Norwegian-American former sailor was the most visible figure in the origins and early decades of maritime unionism in the U.S. Whereas the 1915 Seamen’s Act granted sailors the right to break contract without fear of imprisonment and codified a litany of regulations regarding working and living conditions at sea, close analysis of the political rhetoric that Furuseth and the ISU launched in advocating for the Act’s passage reveals an underlying ideology that sought to protect an ideal of the skilled maritime worker that conflated manliness with “skilled” labor reserved exclusively for white sailors. This ideal was presented at the turn of the 20th-century as being under siege from unskilled, mostly Asian maritime workers, against which the skilled, white maritime union stood as bulwark against the erosion of the industry’s crafts, and by extension, the livelihood (and manliness) of its members. This presentation will examine this rhetoric in detail, and will challenge the hagiographic legacy of Furuseth and the 1915 Seamen’s Act by focusing on a key ideological conflation of skilled maritime labor protectionism, xenophobia, racism, and manliness. Additionally, this presentation will consider the impacts of this ideology on American histories of maritime labor, immigration law, and collective maritime memory.
Bio: Johnathan Thayer (PhD, MLS) is Assistant Professor of Archival Studies at Queens College, City University of New York. He teaches courses in archival studies, public history, and digital history. He is also Senior Archivist at the Seamen’s Church Institute. Thayer’s research focuses on confrontations between merchant seamen and shoreside individuals, institutions, and the state. He is working on a book manuscript tentatively titled Sailors Ashore: Citizenship, Subversion, and Surveillance in U.S. Sailortowns.
Harry Brennan: “Masculine Violence in the lives of John Cremer (1700-1774) and William Byrd II (1674-1744)”
Abstract: A key facet of ‘toxic’ masculinity is the way in which codes of masculine behaviour often encourage violence and cruelty towards others. This can be an outward demonstration of manliness to others, a way to undermine female status, or an outlet for suppressed feelings of anxiety or shame. In this paper, I argue that this aspect of toxic masculinity can be traced in the early modern Atlantic using a dual case study: John Cremer (1700-1774) and William Byrd II (1674-1744). The two share little in common at first glance, besides the early eighteenth century overlap in their lifespans. However, a comparison of their experiences tells us much about toxic masculinity in the early modern Atlantic world. Cremer was low-born, raised on a range of naval and mercantile ships, and known as ‘Rambling Jack’. Forever getting into fights as a boy and as a sailor in the Mediterranean, he was often censured for his violent indiscretions. Byrd, on the other hand, was an Anglo-Virginian plantation owner, firmly amongst the elite. Traversing the Atlantic several times over his life, Byrd aggressively pursued women in London and unleashed violence on servants, slaves and native people back in Virginia. This paper examines how these men’s wildly differing lives at sea fuelled their violent masculinities, often frustrating their own ambitions in the process. Using Cremer’s journal and comparing it to Byrd’s diaries and written works, this dual case-study serves to illustrate how the violent aspects of toxic masculinity operated in the early modern Atlantic world.
Bio: Harry Brennan is a Brit and first-year PhD researcher at the University of Glasgow, examining how gender and identities developed in the early modern British Atlantic, c.1660-1760. His BA and MA degrees were completed at Cardiff University, where he developed an interest in early modern history, gender, and the study of masculinity. @harryajbrennan
Panel 2: Toxic Masculinity in Literature and Song
Dr. Kelly MacPhail: “‘The horror of the race’: W.C. Williams’ ‘The Yachts’ and the 1934 America’s Cup”
Abstract: This paper takes as its starting point William Carlos Williams’ oft anthologized 1935 modernist poem “The Yachts.” What at first glance appears to be a simple poem about a sailboat race in fact reveals manifold intersections of virulently toxic masculinity stemming primarily from testosterone infused competition, markers of economic class, nationalistic pride, and even the early military industrial complex’s preparations for war. The text itself is roughly divided into two parts. The first section evocatively narrates a race between large, powerful yachts while the second takes a dark turn as waves lapping at the side of the yachts become “Arms with hands grasping seek to clutch at the prows. Bodies thrown recklessly in the way are cut aside. / It is a sea of faces about them in agony, in despair / until the horror of the race dawns staggering the mind” (lines 25-29). Given Williams’ condemnation here of the extravagant, leisurely past time of superrich men competing and sailing blithely past the terrible sufferings of the poor masses, the text is indeed a jeremiad against both the cruel indifference of rich men and also the capitalist economic system that allows such massive gaps between rich and poor to exist and widen. However, the race’s significance goes further, as Williams is referring particularly to the 1934 America’s Cup race, which he witnessed firsthand in Newport, Rhode Island, between the New York Yacht Club as represented by Harold S. Vanderbilt and his J-class sloop Rainbow against the Royal Yacht Squadron challenger represented by Sir Thomas Sopwith, who built his modified J-class sloop Endeavour especially for the purpose. Competition was fierce and went beyond good-natured ribbing because personal and national pride was at stake, and both teams spared no expense to win, a feat open only to men of the highest economic class. Vanderbilt used his inherited fortune to build the best boat from the best shipyard with the best materials, even including a special new steel alloy christened “duralumin.” Likewise, Sopwith was a rich industrialist well known for the aeroplanes he built, most notably the iconic World War I Sopwith Camel and World War II’s Hawker fighters. Sopwith applied his aeronautics expertise to Endeavour, making changes to hull, sails, and mast based on the aerodynamics of plane wings. While the yacht itself would not appear to be a weapon of war, such technological experiments were communicated to wartime armaments. Obviously, both men would not only foot the bill but also go man-to-man by skippering their yachts in the races, though Sopwith found himself at a disadvantage when his professional crew went on strike in response to his strong-arm tactics and refusal to pay them a competitive wage. Ironically, both boats turned out to be disposable despite their enormous price tags. Rainbow was scrapped after Vanderbilt ordered a brand new boat for the 1937 America’s Cup. Endeavour, described at the time as “the perfect yacht,” languished in a scrapyard until being restored in 1984. These big J-class racing yachts were a high point in technological advancement, speed, beauty, and luxury, but their very existence at a moment in the Great Depression when some 15 million Americans were unemployed and nearly half the country’s banks had failed made them a telling symbol of the blithe indifference of rich men and their undiluted, competitive, and toxic masculinity.
Bio: Dr. Kelly MacPhail is an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, where he teaches Philosophy and English. His interdisciplinary research focuses on Transatlantic literary modernism, environmental criticism, and belief studies, and he has published on subjects as diverse as animal domestication, Puritan sermons, film noir, and the Western. In this presentation, Kelly combines his research interests in modernist poetry with his experiences as a competitive sailor on Lake Superior.
Dr. Jessica Floyd: “Shaping a Hyper-Masculine Sailing Identity: Sex, Violence, and Otherness in Examples of “Blow the Man Down” Located in the James Madison Carpenter Collection”
Abstract: “Blow the Man Down” is one of the most prolific sea chanteys in circulation and examples of the song are located in almost every published and archival chantey repository known to researchers. In fact, Frederick Pease Harlow, in his collection of chanteys and sailors’ songs mentions that “It [“Blow the Man Down”] has been sung so often that the words are legion” (1962). Sea chanteys were the work songs that the sailor employed when he was at work. Created and commenced by the chantey-man, a man on ship who was prized for his voice as well as his wit, chanteys often represent the collective salt water world of sailors and provide space to vent frustrations, access and assuage longing, and mitigate idiosyncrasies of the sailing life that often rendered Jack Tar (slang for sailor) a man far outside the expectations of the land-bound world. The sailor, afloat in his watery workspace, lived a liminal existence in which he was tied to both land and sea and, because of this, was a man often pulled in both directions at the same time. I argue that the consequence of this pull was that the sailing man was left with trying to conceive of a masculinity that allowed him to function within both of those spaces while maintaining masculine power and agency. What is showcased, at least in some examples of “Blow the Man Down,” is that the sailor’s masculine performance was often interrupted by external forces and the man was rendered, in these fictitious spaces, a subordinated character that falls outside of masculine expectations. This paper investigates the way in which struggles of masculine construction arise in spaces like the sailor’s sea chantey and ventures the argument that the narrative examples located in the James Madison Carpenter Collection showcase the frustration of sailors when their masculine performance clashes with the lived reality of their subordinated existence. Through a close analysis of examples of “Blow the Man Down” located in the Carpenter Collection, it is clear that sailing men articulated the knowledge that a masculine man must be strong, authoritative, and self-possessed; however, the sailing characters often encounter situations in which their performance of masculinity is thwarted and they are subordinated to crafty women, violent and capricious captains and mates, and to the close confines of the ship itself. The sailor’s life was one where he was often at the mercy of each of these (women, captains and mates, and the carceral quality of his wooden workspace) and he catalogues the failings of his masculine performances in places where he would share them with fellow sailing men who inevitably experienced the same frustrations. Ultimately, this paper makes the argument that objects like sea chanteys provide the opportunity for scholars to investigate myriad aspects of the maritime world, one of which is the complex construction of masculinity present on the high seas. Chiefly, the liminal quality of sailing men’s lives had a direct impact on the construction and maintenance of masculine identity.
Bio: Dr. Jessica Floyd is Coordinator and Assistant Professor of English at the Community College of Baltimore County. Her research deals with the narratives of chanteys (sailing work songs of the sea) and how they evoke expressions of gender, sexuality, identity, and history.
Panel 3: Sexuality
Mitch Gould: “Sailors: the Wheels on Melville’s Coach”
Abstract: Maritime historians appreciate that any favorable literary reference to sailors made the self-appointed guardians of Victorian morality very, very, uneasy. “Father” Edward Thompson Taylor once snarled at his Methodist handlers: “I remember when you kept a man at the door of your churches to shut out those who wore a tarpaulin hat and a blue jacket.” The Respectable position was that sailors chose to become pariahs by indulging their own self-destructive propensities: boozing, gambling, brawling, dancing, overspending, and whoring — contributing, if nothing else, to the city’s epidemic of venereal disease. Even the outrageous privations, harsh discipline, grueling labor, and high danger necessarily associated with the occupation were understood to be self-destructive. In Redburn, Herman Melville astutely identified the heart of the problem as a sailor’s intrinsically reckless, restless, thrill-seeking personality. Melville intuitively understood that what modern psychologists call “sensation-seeking behavior” resulted in a distinct “class” of men “who bear the same relation to society at large, that the wheels do to a coach.” Brashly alluding to yet another manifestation of recklessness to which The Respectable could “hardly bear even so much as an allusion,” Melville’s White-Jacket exposed a poorly-kept secret about these pariahs: “The sins for which the cities of the plain were overthrown still linger in some of these wooden-walled Gomorrahs of the deep.” It has been easy for modern critics to ignore this passage from Melville’s work of fiction, but a few years later, the Navy published official confirmation. One ship’s doctor, writing anonymously, affirmed the sheer prevalence of the phenomena and the refusal of officers to address it. My presentation suggests that the time for arguing over whether or not sailors were mutually sexually engaged is over; the evidence is conclusive. The problem that lies before us now is to understand how capitalists exploited a sensation-seeking labor force, in analogy to their lucrative extraction of timber, fish, and minerals from the natural world. What economic value could be assigned to the kind of hypersexuality being studied in modern-day sensation-seekers, among both strait and gay populations?
Bio: Mitchell Santine Gould is an independent scholar, engaged in illuminating the Sailor : Lover : Quaker world of antebellum Manhattan, which gave birth to Walt Whitman and Leaves of Grass. His work has been published in Walt Whitman: an Encyclopedia, Quaker History, and Quaker Theology. Since 2003, he has used https://LeavesofGrass.Org — initially as a blog — to instantly share the results of historical discoveries in the Internet’s swelling collection of digitized books and journals. He was collecting evidence to prove his Sailor : Lover : Quaker hypothesis, based upon the proposition that it was no coincidence that Leaves of Grass was introduced at the very pinnacle of The Age of Sail. Of interest to Global Maritime History readers will be his most recent contribution: the first in-depth survey of the central role of antebellum Quakers in the meteoric rise of the Port of New York. His work has been published in Walt Whitman: an Encyclopedia, Quaker History, and Quaker Theology.
Dr. Jo Stanley: “How can I say ‘vagina’ here? Maritime historiographies’ silences around sexuality”
Abstract: Sex, particularly seawomen’s subjective sexuality, has been largely absent from even gender aware maritime historiography. Yet on-board sexual activity at sea is central to the lives of seafarers who endure long separations from loved ones ashore and who, on cruise ships, have access to an intensive ludic culture involving casual sexual encounters of diverse kinds.
Over the centuries a key reason for ships excluding women workers sailing without husbands aboard was fear that rivalry over sexual access would destabilise the fragile shipboard order. Since the 1970s employers have been reluctant to employ and train women because they believe the wish to have children will lead to female employees having a shorter shelf life than males. Principal scholarly works about maritime sexuality have focused only on male homosexuality (Baker & Stanley, 2015; Burg, 1995, 2007).
Three factors have now emerged to enable seawomen’s sexuality to be discussed within maritime historiography. Firstly, this conference is an appropriate form. It arises from the recognition of hyper-masculinity’s toxicity in general and from specific interest in maritime and military masculinities (which can include the study of sexual encounters as part of the construction of male seafarers’ identity), as expressed at the Maritime Masculinities 1815-1940 conference, 2016. Secondly, the radical and feminist turn in museums (Ashton, 2018; Sandell, 2019) has led to a quest for better representing diversity, including women and sexuality. This is reflected in the staging of the world’s first exhibition on the subject, Sex and The Sea(Rotterdam 2016; Tallin 2019). And, thirdly, interdisciplinary sexuality studies have been established as a respectable academic area, as demonstrated, for example, by Palgrave Macmillan’s Genders and Sexualities in History list.
The author will outline her own three-decade long experiences of thinking it tactically inadvisable to use words such as ‘clitoris’ on the same metaphorical page as ‘Admiralty’ or ‘transportation management’. Hegemonic silence is more acute here than when referring to Jack Tar’s feted phallus, as in shanties; breasts, as in the visual iconography of ships’ figureheads ; and the arse as orifice used in criminalised male homosexual interactions. Significantly such words are not yet in maritime historiography’s routine lexicon because of the lack of connection between conservative part of the mar hist community, whose work on intimacy and emotion is still sparse, and the more outspoken interdisciplinary world of gender and sexuality studies. She will discuss situations where sexualised power nexuses need to be articulated, for example in the study of murders by seamen which were related to the sexual availability of three post-war women on ships: passenger Gay Gibson on the Durban Castlein 1947; Winchester Castlestewardess Christine Granville in 1952; and stowaway Michelle Kirkwood on the Rotherwick Castlein 1973.
This paper does not to argue that ‘cunt-counting’ should replace ‘rivet-counting’ in maritime historiography. The purpose of raising the subject of seawomen as sexual beings and sexualised objects is to metaphorically open up closed cabin portholes to the ozone. Such a process can assist in the creating in balanced accounts of the maritime past where the centrality of sex, sexuality and gender on ships are fully recognised.
Bio: Dr. Jo Stanley researches and writes about the history of women, black and LGBTQI+ people in maritime life. She is Senior Visiting Research Fellow at Liverpool John Moores University and her most recent book is Women and the Royal Navy(2017). See also her article ‘On Buffer-kissers, Bus-station Skanks and Mile-high Clubs: Sexualities and Transport, in Mobilities in History, 2013
Panel Four: The Docks: Semiotic Examination of Masculinity and Sexual Constructs Surrounding the Lone Sailor
Steven Dashiell (lead organizer), Dorian Alexander, Kyle Shupe, and Angus Henderson: “The Docks: Semiotic Examination of Masculinity and Sexual Constructs Surrounding the Lone Sailor”
Abstract: The purpose of this panel is to examine the historic and symbolic role of two concepts, the docks and the sailor, and how they have contributed to masculinity performances and expectations among both homosexual and heterosexual men. There has been a lore surrounding the “lonely docks” and the sailor who is seeking sexual release after his time on the sea. While the imagery is highly sexualized, the setting and activity do not directly speak to the sexuality of the participants, but more to the nature of the public sex environment. The sailor, or more specifically, the navy sailor, then becomes a complex masculine figure; displayed in a manner that highlights his manhood and hardy nature, while desirous of contact with other men via sexual release. While examination of the public sex environment and the men who partake in it gives some insight into how men who do not wish to be openly homosexual interact, there is less knowledge about the norms and roles those participants perform. The grey nature of the docks as a sexual space, and the sailor as a participant, allows for any who participate to engage in behaviors that might be more toxic, as there is a deniability factor of engagement from all sides.
Bios: Dorian Alexander teaches history at Seattle Central College, specializing in queer history and representations of the past in popular culture. He is one of the editors for Drawing the Past: Comics and the Historical Imagination, an upcoming book series exploring how comics shape our understanding of history, and writes historical comics for The Nib. He was recently accepted into the PhD program at University of Washington in English Literature.
Steven Dashiell is a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland Baltimore County in the Language, Literacy and Culture Department. His research looks specifically at male-dominated subcultures and the discourses and practices that occur in spaces commonly associated with men. He has academic publishing on the Geek Anthropologist and the online journal Analog Game Studies.
Angus Henderson is a recent graduate of Oklahoma State University’s Art History undergraduate program with an emphasis on LGBT Visual Culture. His current research is on the impact of Tom of Finland on the formation of modern American gay culture. Most recently, he accepted a summer residency at the Queer Zine Archive Project in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Kyle Shupe is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Cincinnati. His research interests are in gender and sexual identities, dating apps, and the sociology of desire. In his current work, he examines the social organization of desirability in queer men’s communities. He is an Assistant Editor at Social Problems.